Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Officiating Uniforms Weren't Always Just A Click Away

Yesterday I worked with veteran Detroit-area prep official Mike Hesson for a boys' basketball game between visiting Avondale High and the Rochester Adams' Highlanders.

Hesson's a walking, talking memoir of officiating's local history within a 30-year time period that dates back to the heady days of his sports officiating class at East Detroit High in the mid-to-late 1970s. Among the fond memories we reminisced from Hesson's treasure-trove of recollections was the creation of the officiating uniform.

Yes, there was a day when even the niftiest officiating uniforms were piece-mailed together from stops at uniform stores, restaurants with yellow napkins and sporting good stores that carried BB's, golf balls or fishing tackle.

"You purchased the striped shirts from local sporting goods stores," Hesson began. "But there was no choice in material so you chose long sleeves or short sleeves and were happy to have that choice. Striped jackets weren't available, so on inclement days, officials wore clear vinyl or plastic jackets. On cold days you added sweatshirts and long johns."

"Knickers weren't available -- and you couldn't use baseball pants because there were no pockets on those pants -- so officials would buy 'Cook's Whites' from a restaurant supply store and cut the pants down into knickers," Hesson recalled. "And all officials knew the Detroit-area restaurants with yellow napkins. You would have dinner there and forget a yellow napkin in your pocket. The napkin would be filled with BB's, sinkers or possibly a golf ball, and that's how you made your penalty flag."

Even more inconceivable is the way all the other accessories were created, like the bean bag, timing devices, all-black shoes and the game's Back Judge (BJ). Yes, the BJ was a accessory, a luxury even, if you will.

"Without a doubt, the schools were shamed into the fifth guy. I think it was '82 or '83 when the MHSAA (Michigan High School Athletic Association) started using the Back Judge for playoff games. Most crews were bring five guys and splitting four checks by that point anyway," Hesson explained. Ironically, the back judge position is where most varsity crew rookies get their start, yet the few flags the BJ throws per game usually all have the potential to be the most-scrutinized calls of the night.

"I can't remember if a bean bag was required when I got started, but it was a process of taking material from an old shirt, filling it with popcorn and sewing it up," Hesson said. "There were no all-in-one socks, either. First it was a black stirrup sock with a white sock over the top. Then we changed to a baseball stirrup with three stripes until we changed to the socks we have today."

"And there were no timing devices!" Hesson told me. "Oh my god, you would wear a coaches' stopwatch with a wristband that railroad people used to wear the watch on your wrist." Hesson also explained black shoes were a rarity and choice was limited to Spot-Bilt or Ridell. Most officials would buy a pair of all-black shoes and have a new sole applied, because you couldn't use football cleats -- they weren't available in all-black back then.

Today, it's all point 'n click on the Internet with drop shipping included. In less than five minutes an official can have his or her entire uniform ordered and fulfilled. The two biggest national officiating apparel giants are located less than seven miles from each other in the same town, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cliff Keen Athletic and Honig's Whistle Stop.

Back in the day it was about a Cup o' Joe, a diner's special and a stop at the marina or bait-and-tackle shop, all to make a few calls and few bucks along the way.

(Photo courtesy Stan Lopata family collection)

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries (already out) and Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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Blogger cedric said...

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March 22, 2009 at 11:42 PM 

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